When asked about her earliest art work, Kiki Smith often describes a set of bed sheets and pillow cases she made of muslin and then decorated with painted arms, legs, eyes and mouths. This first work is emblematic of Smith's pursuits over the course of her celebrated career. In many ways, Smith's work has been built upon the relationship between personal experience and external realities. The home has always played an important role in Smith's artistic process. Continuously examining the human condition, she has maintained an interest in functional yet decorative objects for the home in an ongoing effort to infuse the intimacy of domestic life with the larger themes of her work.
The Fabric Workshop and Museum's exhibition, Kiki Smith: Homework, consists of several domestic vignettes throughout which Smith's functional objects are displayed performing their practical duties. Seemingly normal, the imagery and form of these domestic objects play with viewer's expectations. The works evoke a sense of the familiar and the unfamiliar, serving mundane purposes but taking unusual and often extraordinary forms, such as a bank in the form of a lamb (Lamb Bank, 2002) as opposed to the traditional "piggy," or a finger bowl that is made of casts of the artist's fingers (Finger Bowl, 1995).
For this exhibition Smith has created three works in collaboration with The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Owl and Pussycat, 2002, Lamb Bank, 2002, and Familiars, 2001. Each flip doll is unique, made of hand sewn silkscreened fabric designed by Smith and Liberty Print fabrics. The flip doll is a cat on one side and when its skirt is flipped over an owl is revealed, complete with little wings. In keeping with Smith's interest in folklore, the concept of the Owl and Pussycat flip doll draws from the classic nursery rhyme by Edward Lear.
For Smith, dolls and puppets have important connections to folklore and mythology; conjuring thoughts of childhood stories and mixing personal memories with recognized fables and archetypal myths. Lamb Bank evokes a similar sentiment as the idyllic image of a little white lamb is a common image in children's folk tales, suggesting pastoral purity. Familiars, 2001 is the first multiple completed by Smith in collaboration with The Fabric Workshop and Museum. This woven coverlet features a composition of creatures great and small attending to a central female figure. The ''familiars," or spirits said to be embodied in an animal and bound to the protection of a person are printed on the wool coverlet as if to shelter the user as they sleep.
Smith works with a variety of media and has a keen interest in manipulating physical matter in order to express the duality of the personal and universal. The formal qualities of her work are always strongly connected to the content. In her ongoing exploration of materials, Smith challenges traditional hierarchies of artistic media, and therefore hierarchies of art. This is made evident by the artist's choice to create objects that range in material, value, function and scale. Smith's goal in creating such a range is to see to it that these objects find their way out of the gallery, out of the museum, and into our everyday lives. With a passion for such experimentation, this collaboration between Smith and The Fabric Workshop and Museum is an ideal relationship.